The raids on homes around the country were billed as carefully planned hunts for dangerous immigrant fugitives, and given catchy names like Operation Return to Sender.
And they garnered bigger increases in money and staff from Congress than any other program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even as complaints grew that teams of armed agents were entering homes indiscriminately.
But in fact, beginning in 2006, the program was no longer what was being advertised. Federal immigration officials had repeatedly told Congress that among more than half a million immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, they would concentrate on rounding up the most threatening — criminals and terrorism suspects.
Instead, newly available documents show, the agency changed the rules, and the program increasingly went after easier targets. A vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either.
Internal directives by immigration officials in 2006 raised arrest quotas for each team in the National Fugitive Operations Program, eliminated a requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals, and then allowed the teams to include nonfugitives in their count.
The impact of the internal directives, obtained by a professor and students at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law through a Freedom of Information lawsuit and shared with The New York Times, shows the power of administrative memos to significantly alter immigration enforcement policy without any legislative change.
The memos also help explain the pattern of arrests documented in a report, criticizing the fugitive operations program, to be released on Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.
Peter L. Markowitz, who teaches immigration law at Cardozo and directs its immigration legal clinic, said the memos obtained in its lawsuit reflected the Bush administration’s effort to appear tough on immigration enforcement during the unsuccessful push to pass comprehensive immigration legislation in 2006, and amid rising anger over illegal immigration.
“It looks like what happened here is that the law enforcement strategy was hijacked by the political agenda of the administration,” he said.
So instead of a program designed to round up dangerous illegals, combined with comprehensive immigration reform, we got a program that picked off the low-hanging fruit and no reform at all. Thanks guys.